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Deakin research breakthrough for high performance carbon fibre polymers

12 September 2016

A Deakin University researcher has improved the methods for the design and synthesis of high performance carbon fibre precursor polymers.

Dr Nisa Salim, a researcher within Deakin’s globally unique carbon fibre research facility, Carbon Nexus, has developed advanced polyacrylonitrile polymers capable of producing fibres with enhanced structure and properties, using sequential distribution of monomers in conjunction with RAFT technology.

Dr Salim’s breakthrough will enable the making of polymers that are capable of producing carbon fibres with enhanced structure and properties.

The improvements are a result of Dr Salim’s prestigious Victoria Fellowship, which last year enabled her to visit several overseas carbon fibre composite research facilities in the United States.

Dr Salim spent nearly two months at the Polymer School at the University of Southern Mississippi, working with Professor Jeff Wiggins, whose research group has recently developed advanced protocols and customised laboratory facilities to design and synthesise the next generation of carbon fibre precursors using a variety of technologies including semi-batch RAFT polymerisation.

Professor Wiggins said it was an honour to host Dr Salim for a portion of her fellowship.

“She established strong international research collaboration and brought esteemed recognition for the research being conducted at Deakin University,” Professor Wiggins said.

“Dr Salim is an outstanding ambassador for international collaboration and made a long-lasting impact on my students and research group.”

The collaborative research between the Polymer School and Deakin University has led to the synthesis of nearly ten precursor polymers with high molecular weight and uniform order and distribution of co-monomers.

Dr Salim said it was a privilege to work with a group to solve various challenges in high performance polymer materials.

Also as part of the Fellowship-funded study tour, Dr Salim experienced hands-on training on the wold-class customised wet spinning line at the Centre for Applied Energy Research, University of Kentucky, where she worked in partnership with the carbon materials group led by Dr Mathew Weisenberger.

“I had the opportunity to make my own customised precursor fibres, by changing spinning conditions. The spinning of fibres on a customised pilot scale facility was a wonderful experience,” Dr Salim said.

“A critical challenge of wet spun fibres is the presence of voids developed during the coagulation process. Previously, there were no reliable procedures to quantitatively measure the size and volume of pores in the fibres. The research program helped us to combine the right skills and shared knowledge to develop a method to quantify the porosity of these fibres.

“We are all excited about the outcomes of this research. The program I selected was perfect for me, I met so many amazing people,” Dr Salim said.

Dr Weisenberger said he was also pleased with the project’s success.

“Dr Salim did an amazing job developing the analysis to evaluate the porosity distribution in her precursor PAN-based fibres. I’m sure this work will be very valuable moving forward and we certainly look forward to staying in touch,” he said.

The Victoria Fellowship is a highly competitive award given by Veski to leading young scientists to undertake programs in an overseas organisation on cutting edge technologies that contribute to Victoria’s social/economic and scientific advancement.

Dr Salim is an Alfred Deakin Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at IFM and she is currently working with IFM’s Australian Research Council Future Fellow Associate Professor Joselito Razal to develop the new polymer formulations followed by wet spinning for making high performance precursors and carbon fibres.

The new knowledge and skills achieved during her Victoria Fellowship study tour will contribute towards identifying gaps in the precursor fibre spinning area and finding reliable solutions to those critical challenges.

Geelong is emerging as Australia’s ‘carbon valley’ since the establishment of the hi-tech carbon fibre facility, Carbon Nexus at Deakin University and the subsequent establishment of world leading carbon fibre stakeholders such as one-piece carbon fibre wheel manufacturers, Carbon Revolution and advanced composites manufacturer Quickstep Technologies.

The Deakin-CSIRO partnership is now commissioning a world-class pilot scale wet spinning facility, to be based at the University’s Waurn Ponds campus, which will complete the carbon fibre value chain from molecular level synthesis of precursors through to fabrication of composite laminates using high quality carbon fibres manufactured on-site. -ends


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